After you’ve had a proper cup of tea, you’ll understand why Arthur Dent, the protagonist in Douglas Adams’ quirky sci-fi series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, searches high and low for such a cup after the earth is destroyed.
The British always complain that they can never find a proper cup of tea in the States. And it’s not surprising, since they’ve made tea-brewing into an art and science, some of the details of which are still debated.
How to make tea is easy: You only need to know to “warm the pot,” the proper order for adding the tea leaves, and the correct steeping time.
How to Make Tea: Brewing a Proper Pot of Tea
You’ll need: a kettle for boiling water, a teapot for steeping the tea, tea cups, and tea.
1. Fill the teapot (preferably ceramic or china) with warm to hot water to “warm the pot.” If making tea in a cup, warm the cup with a splash of hot water.
2. Place a kettle of water on the stove to boil.
3. Just before the kettle starts to boil, dump out the water in the teapot you used to “warm the pot,” and add the tea leaves. Use 1 teaspoon of tea per cup, plus 1 additional teaspoon of tea “for the pot.” To truly make tea British style, it’s important to put the tea in the pot before the boiling water.
4. Before the kettle begins to boil, bring the teapot close to the kettle. When the water starts to boil, remove the kettle from the heat and pour the boiling water into the teapot. Make sure the water is boiling and not simply hot, as boiling water is necessary for the tea to infuse.
5. If you have a tea cozy, cover the teapot with the cozy right after adding the boiling water.
6. Let it steep for about four minutes. Don’t dunk or squeeze tea bags if you use them, and remove any strings or tags from the bags.
7. Use a strainer when pouring the tea.
8. Serve with white sugar (preferably sugar cubes), low-fat milk (never cream), lemon slices, or drink it black.
Milk or Sugar?
There’s debate in Britain about whether to put milk in your cup before or after pouring the tea. The best rule to follow, based on George Orwell’s classic essay “A Nice Cup of Tea,” is to pour the tea into the cup first, then add the milk while stirring. An exception is when you’re absolutely certain about how much milk you want.
According to Orwell, a true tea drinker won’t use sugar:
How can you call yourself a true tea lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt. Tea is meant to be bitter, just as beer is meant to be bitter. If you sweeten it, you are no longer tasting the tea, you are merely tasting the sugar; you could make a very similar drink by dissolving sugar in plain hot water.
If you don’t think you can forego sugar, Orwell suggests drinking tea without it for a fortnight; then “it is very unlikely that you will ever want to ruin your tea by sweetening it again.”